Humboldt Park

Puerton Rican Cultural Center

PRCC advocates for community needs, autonomy, and growth within Humboldt Park

Q: Can you tell me about PRCC? What is the organization’s mission and what kind of work do you do in the community? A: The Puerto Rican cultural center is going to be celebrating 50 years next year. We were founded on the principles of self-determination, self-reliance, and self-actualization. And we do that based on this idea of communal responsibility as well. It was really started--it was started by José Lopez and some other founding members who were really frustrated with the reality of Puerto Ricans living in Chicago. Also, the United States, they were really looking at the colonial reality, colonization and the relationship, the colonial relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. And so they started as a grassroots community organizing group and have grown into a major organization, community organization that has 15 programs, all based in Humboldt Park on Paseo Boricua. We're in one of them right now, which is the Humboldt Park Youth Employment and Empowerment Center.

Q: Do you live in Humboldt Park? What is your favorite thing about living/working in this community? A: I was born and raised in Humboldt Park. I live in the same building that my mother was born in. So I have very deep roots in Humboldt Park. My grandparents live on the first floor--the third floor--my uncle lives on the first floor, I live with my family on the second floor, and that's how it's been my whole life and their lives. And I think my favorite thing about living in Humboldt Park and working at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, because it's similar. I am Puerto Rican and Mexican, so it feels like extended family. Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about why you think it’s important for Humboldt Park to have a Puerto Rican Cultural Center? What does that mean for the community? A: The history of Humboldt Park is a very interesting history. It is something that not a lot of people take the time to learn about. And it really speaks to the history of colonialism and displacement. And so I think it's something that's very important to understand. And that's what the Puerto Rican Cultural Center really tries to do, is make sure that we are preserving and promoting our culture and our resiliency as an act of resistance. We are very deeply committed to community organizing and doing community organizing that's not just focused on singular issues, but really thinking about building community and creating a community of resistance that is informed by our history and so that we can consistently learn. And that's why we're so focused on creating parallel institutions.

Q: What are some pertinent social justice issues currently impacting Humboldt Park? A: The major issue that we have been facing is gentrification. Hyper-gentrification of Humboldt Park is not anything new, but it has advanced in the last few decades. Even from when I was young, I've seen the community change a lot. I've seen people who I went to school with get pushed out of this community. And so that is something that we have been working on recently. Affordable housing is something that we have been trying to focus on so that people who we have been in community with can afford to continue living here. Q: Can you touch on the significance of the Paseo Boricua? A: The development of Paseo Boricua was very much to honor the persistence and presence of Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park, because, like I said, even prior to Puerto Ricans being in Humboldt Park, there had already been a history of displacement and gentrification that Puerto Ricans were consistently facing. And that's an extension of the spatial deconcentration that was very much a part of the colonial project in Puerto Rico. And a lot of people would talk about gentrification and say, oh, but it's getting like that makes the community better. But the question is for whom? Because a lot of times, maybe it seems like there's a pretty park that gets added or a coffee shop, but that also leads to making sure that people who can't afford higher prices get pushed out, right? And so the reason why we really wanted to create Paseo Boricua was to ensure that people, longtime residents who have been here and faced all types of trials and tribulations can be able to stay here, are honored and their history affirmed in their culture, and get the resources that are hopefully going to come with a designation of a cultural empowerment district so that we can support local economies and build a local economy so that we can promote autonomy and community building in a way that is directly in contrast to colonialism and colonial violence.

Q: How can University students interact with Humboldt Park in a way that is thoughtful, intentional, and respectful? A: The best way to interact with Humboldt Park is to just be interactive, to really interact with the community, because that way it's like more of a relationship-building process rather than you coming and just being voyeuristic in a way, you know? It's so important to understand the history of the land that you are on, because, you know, even prior to Polish immigrants, prior to settlers--European settlers--this land was Potawatomi and Ojibwe indigenous land.

Q: What hopes do you have for PRCC in the next five to ten years? A: My hopes for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center may not be in line with everyone's hopes for this community or even for this organization one way or the other, even if you're Puerto Rican or if you're not. However, my hopes, I think, would be to really see the development of parallel institutions in this community, to create a sense of autonomy, and to be able to create new worlds. I think that is to me how I see the final stage of what our vision of community organizing is at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. And I think that's what's so powerful.

Check out PRCC's website for more info.